Philharmonia Orchestra / Esa-Pekka Salonen

Berlioz: Symphonie Fantastique

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For the most part, this 2008 rendition of Hector Berlioz's Symphonie fantastique by Esa-Pekka Salonen and the Philharmonia Orchestra is straightforward, with almost no unusual features to make it stand out from many other good, mainstream recordings. Recorded live at the Royal Festival Hall in London, the performance is remarkably free of audience noises and reasonably free of mistakes in the orchestra, though some looseness in fast passages, as in Un Bal, should be noted. Also a bit unusual is the absence of repeats in Marche au supplice, which most modern conductors observe. But these are minor quibbles, and hardly serious enough to dissuade most listeners. Perhaps the only worthwhile criticism that would benefit them is of the recording's sound quality, specifically of its volume levels, which seem now and then to be adjusted to overcompensate in quiet sections; the tell-tale controls of the mixing board make the actual dynamic levels a little hard to discern, if indeed Salonen follows them, so having a score handy might be helpful for students using this recording. Aside from those minor points, this is an exciting performance, especially in the last two movements, where Salonen cuts loose and the Philharmonia really seems to enjoy itself. Ludwig van Beethoven's Leonore Overture No. 2 is provided as filler that almost seems anti-climactic after the rip-snorting finale of the Symphonie fantastique (and the extremely enthusiastic applause). But it is a welcome antidote to the hallucinatory program of Berlioz's masterpiece and brings a salutary dose of optimism and nobility to this disc. Unlike the reproduction in Symphonie fantastique, the audio here is uncomplicated by later mixing.

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